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Dr Caroline Weight

Institute: University College London

Characterisation of human nasal epithelial challenge using live attenuated strains of Streptococcus pneumoniae as a novel vaccine

Streptococcus pneumoniae (the pneumococcus) are bacteria that can infect the lower airway and lungs. The bacteria lead to more than 500,000 deaths worldwide every year, mainly affecting children under 5 and adults over 65.

The current vaccine is not effective against all strains of pneumococci bacteria, nor does it prevent people carrying the pneumococcus without knowing (and spreading it to others). New, more effective vaccines are needed to reduce the number of people affected by this disease.

The pneumococcus
The pneumococcus
Image:  AJC1 _ Flickr

Previous findings from human infection studies at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine show that repeated exposure to Streptococcus pneumoniae strengthens the immune response against the bacteria, and reduces the risk of a person becoming ill or carrying the bacteria around in their nose. 

Based on this idea, we are finding out whether genetically modified versions of Streptococcus pneumoniae, that are incapable of causing disease, can still trigger the same type of immune response. This could form the basis of a vaccine that could protect people against natural and potentially harmful Streptococcus pneumoniae strains in addition to the current vaccine.

During this project we will be comparing detailed analyses of how cells grown in a lab respond to natural bacteria and the genetically modified versions, and then comparing these results to samples previously collected from volunteers taking part in human infection studies who were exposed to Streptococcus pneumoniae.

Our aim is to determine if the genetically modified lab-made bacteria (that can’t cause disease) create the same immune response – this would indicate they might be safe and effective as vaccines.

More about Dr Weight here.

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